House lawmakers defy Abbott on vouchers
A key House education committee adjourned last week without voting on a school voucher bill that is Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priority this session, the Houston Chronicle reported. Barring some unforeseen maneuver in the last week of the regular legislative session, the bill is effectively dead for now.
The Senate had approved a bill that would provide Texas families $8,000 in taxpayer money to fund private or charter school tuition. The House narrowed the scope so that it would only apply to students with disabilities or those attending schools with a failing grade issued by the Texas Education Agency – an estimated 800,000 students. The Senate bill would make vouchers available to 5.5 million Texas students.
State Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he doesn’t plan to call a vote on the measure. Abbott has threatened to veto the House version or call a special session if the House does not approve the Senate version.
Opponents of the voucher system say it would take money away from public education.
“These voucher proposals have been brought before — in 1957. A tuition grant bill was passed through the House. It failed ultimately, but it was to allow kids to leave integrated schools and join white-only schools,” state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said.
Bills favoring natural gas power plants advance
A Texas House committee voted Thursday to send to the House floor a Senate bill providing $10 billion in taxpayer money for low-interest loans to build natural gas-powered electrical generating plants. The plan is still subject to change in the waning days of the legislative session, however.
The Dallas Morning News reported the call for plant expansions stem from the near collapse of the power grid during the devastating winter storm in 2021. Hundreds of Texans died during that blackout.
State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and chair of the House State Affairs Committee that is considering the bills, said the $10 billion loan fund and other power generation measures remain “works in progress.” The legislative session ends May 29.
House, Senate closer on tax relief plan
The Texas House and Senate appear to be nearing a deal that would deliver billions of dollars in property tax relief, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The proposal combines House Speaker Dade Phelan’s preference for cutting appraisal caps by half with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s preference for increasing homestead exemptions.
The Legislature was under a mandate from Abbott and Patrick to return nearly half of the state’s $33 billion budget surplus to taxpayers. The latest measure would lower the appraised value cap from 10% to 5% for all properties. The House version would also raise the state’s homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000, with an added $10,000 exemption for seniors and disabled homeowners. Patrick’s original proposal was to raise the exemption to $70,000.
Draft budget bars tax dollars for Paxton settlement
House and Senate budget negotiators plan to bar using state funds to pay the $3.3 million whistleblower settlement negotiated by Attorney General Ken Paxton and his former aides, the Statesman reported.
The settlement was reached in February after four former employees of the AG’s office sued Paxton, accusing him of bribery and abusing his office. Since that time the four aides were fired or have resigned. Paxton denied their allegations, but as part of the settlement apologized for calling them “rogue employees.”
Paxton said when the settlement was reached that it would save taxpayer money in the long run by avoiding an expensive court battle.
“I have chosen this path to save taxpayer dollars and ensure my third term as Attorney General is unburdened by unnecessary distractions,” Paxton said in a statement at the time. “This settlement achieves these goals.”
Suspected fungal infections linked to Matamoros surgeries
The Texas Department of State Health Services is sounding the alarm to the public and doctors about suspected cases of fungal meningitis among Texas residents receiving surgery in Matamoros, Mexico – across the border from Brownsville. So far, the investigation has found at least five affected patients, four of whom are now hospitalized and one who died.
The patients traveled from Texas to Matamoros for surgical procedures that involved an epidural anesthetic, which is injected around the spinal column. One of the possible elective procedures conducted under an epidural is liposuction.
“It is very important that people who have recently had medical procedures in Mexico monitor themselves for symptoms of meningitis,” said DSHS Commissioner Jennifer Shuford. “Meningitis, especially when caused by bacteria or fungus, can be a life-threatening illness unless treated promptly.”
Anyone who had surgery involving an epidural in Matamoros this year is advised to contact a doctor, DSHS said in its news release.
More than $9 million in EMS student scholarships
The state is funding more than $9 million for 1,500 emergency medical services scholarships. The goal is to expand the state’s EMS workforce, especially in underserved and rural areas. The funding comes from legislation passed during the 2021 legislative session.
“This funding to support EMS education opportunities and to increase the workforce will ensure a strong EMS system in Texas,” said Joe Schmider of DSHS. “These scholarships are impacting the current and future emergency care throughout all of Texas.”
Potential EMS students can learn more by going here: dshs.texas.gov/emstexas.
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